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Chargers have it made in the shade

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Johnny Lightning, Aug 6, 2010.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006

    Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 9:14 p.m.

    Earth City, Mo. Metairie, La. Berea, Ohio. Bourbonnais, Ill. Flowery Branch, Ga. Three places in Florida and two in Texas.

    In August.

    All are places where, if you absolutely have to step outside in the light of day in the middle of summer … well, you still don’t. Places where your alarm-clock radio wakes you up at 6 a.m. and immediately alerts you to the heat advisory. Places where it’s so hot and so humid, locals book airfare to cooler climes. Like, say, the surface of the sun.

    These are some of the places where National Football League teams hold their training camps, where men weighing 300 pounds or more don helmets and pads and head out onto the uncovered field, then run around and bang on each other for a couple of hours. Twice a day. Every day.

    “In those afternoon sessions,” said Chargers tight end Randy McMichael, “you can see the devil sitting up there on the goal post.”

    Training camp, to be sure, ain’t summer camp. Gone for the most part are the days when NFL teams feel compelled to move their entire operation to outposts that are particularly remote and excessively warm, the better to tear down wills and build character and camaraderie through sheer misery, getting every last drop of perspiration out of their players. More and more, teams do it like the Chargers do, using their year-round headquarters for training camp.

    Come to think of it, the Chargers don’t even belong in this conversation. Not as long as they continue to train in San Diego.

    “Anybody who’s been to some of the other camps,” said tight end Kris Wilson, “knows that this is a blessing.”

    “Seventy degrees with a breeze,” said quarterback Billy Volek. “Heaven.”

    Each of the aforementioned Chargers played (and camped) elsewhere. McMichael has come to San Diego this year after five seasons with the Miami Dolphins and three with the St. Louis Rams. Wilson spent four years with the Kansas City Chiefs , who trained at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in his tenure with them, but since have moved to even hotter Missouri Western State. Volek’s team for seven years, the Tennessee Titans, stay home in steamy Nashville.

    “Brutal, just brutal,” said Volek, who became more acclimated to the weather after moving his family to Music City. “Guys would be fighting over the shade from the tower. There’d be one small tree somewhere out there and all these guys fighting to get underneath that tree. If you could get under that tree, you had a fine piece of real estate.”

    Approached for this story during a break between the morning and afternoon sessions at Chargers Park, defensive lineman Travis Johnson was about to pull a hooded sweatshirt over his head before leaving the locker room. That’s not something he’d have done at any point while training with the overhumidified Houston Texans, another of the teams who stay home for camp.

    “It’d be 110, stale, muggy,” said Johnson. “All of a sudden you’d feel the slightest breeze and you close your eyes and go, ‘Oh, my goodness, am I in Hawaii right now?’ You feel it. And you can see everybody else feeling it.”

    Elsewhere, you actually can see players eyeing the horizon for any hint of a cloud, watching the approach of the tiniest nimbus as meteorological manna from heaven. They’ll tilt the cage of their face masks upward, trying to get the full effect of the merciful shadow.

    Chargers defensive tackle Antonio Garay was with the Cleveland Browns in Berea one year and the Chicago Bears in Bourbonnais the next two. He’s lived the Midwest at its sweatiest.

    “Sometimes you’d see lightning high up in the sky and hear the thunder, but no rain would fall,” said Garay. “When it does rain, then the sun comes out, it’s boom. That’s when it really gets sticky.”

    Garay stands 6-4, 320 pounds, which is a lot of physicality to lug around in the heat, yet is not without its benefit. All players are constantly reminded to remain hydrated, but sometimes there isn’t enough water (or potassium) in the world to keep some players from tightening up in the heat.

    “You’d see guys full-body-cramped in the showers,” Volek said. “They couldn’t move anything.”

    Johnson’s seen worse. Even before he was drafted in the first round of 2005 by the Texans, he’d played in a place that might’ve been even hotter. Though raised in Southern California , Johnson chose Tallahassee and Florida State for his college experience. He was in the Seminoles locker room during camp when teammate and close pal Greg Jones, now the Jacksonville Jaguars’ fullback, locked up from head to toe.

    “His whole body cramped up, tongue and everything,” Johnson said. “We used to say Coach (Bobby) Bowden and Jesus were best friends. It’d be pouring rain outside and we’re like, ‘Good, we can stay in the gym.’ That’s when Coach Bowden’d go, ‘Jesus, could you turn that switch off on the rain?’ The sun would come back and … oh, man.”

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